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segunda-feira, 21 de maio de 2018

Nixon e Kissinger: dois cinicos ambiciosos - book review Robert Dallek


The Odd Couple

Visionaries or cynics? Peacemakers or warmongers? Few individuals in recent times have provoked as much controversy as Richard Nixon and his partner in foreign affairs, Henry Kissinger. Admirers laud the two men for dramatically easing the cold war and sensibly recognizing the limits of American power to shape the world. Critics castigate them as Machiavellians who undertook reckless policies in the third world, often throwing American power behind brutal tyrants in elusive quests for international stability.
Robert Dallek argues for another possibility: the two men were visionaries and cynics at the same time. On first consideration, this is an unremarkable conclusion. And yet “Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power” makes a valuable contribution to the study of American policy making during the turbulent years from 1969 through 1974. Partly, it does this by transcending the stale polemics that have surrounded the study of Nixon and Kissinger. But its more significant, if not wholly convincing, achievement is to connect the unevenness of their policy-making performance with the ups and downs of their peculiar personalities. “The careers of both Nixon and Kissinger,” Dallek asserts, “reflect the extent to which great accomplishments and public wrongdoing can spring from inner lives.”
This isn’t the first time Dallek, a prolific biographer of American presidents, has challenged simplistic characterizations of public men by delving into their private behavior. In 2003, his best-selling study, “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963,” drew on long-secret medical records to describe Kennedy’s epic struggles against a variety of ailments. “Nixon and Kissinger” contains no such spectacular revelations. Indeed, Dallek’s extensive use of recently declassified material — millions of pages of national security documents, 2,800 hours of Nixon’s secret tape recordings and 20,000 pages of transcriptions of Kissinger’s phone calls — seems to have turned up nothing to revise the broad contours of either man’s life. Rather, Dallek exploits this new material mainly for the quotations and fresh details that enable him to paint rich portraits of his two subjects.
Associated Press 
Superficially, Nixon and Kissinger, who served first as Nixon’s national security adviser and then as his secretary of state, had precious little in common. The president, son of a California grocer, identified with the hopes and grievances of middle America and bristled with resentment against East Coast sophisticates. Kissinger, a German-born Jew, rose to prominence as a pathbreaking scholar of international politics at Harvard and reveled in his acceptance among the political and intellectual elite.
But fundamentally, Dallek shows, the two were remarkably alike. Both wanted desperately to leave a deep imprint on history. Both were ruthless pragmatists who disregarded decorum, principle and sometimes the law to get what they wanted. And both were insecure loners who distrusted, deceived and abused just about everyone, including each other. For these troubled men, Dallek writes, politics offered “a form of vocational therapy” — an arena where they could exercise control and find approval.
Shared neuroses led to jealousy and hostility. Kissinger privately assailed Nixon as “that madman” and “the meatball mind.” Nixon returned the favor, demeaning Kissinger as his “Jew boy” and calling him “psychopathic.” He fretted incessantly that Kissinger was getting too much credit for the administration’s accomplishments and repeatedly considered firing him. Still, Dallek writes, their common characteristics did even more to bond the two men, who formed “one of or possibly the most significant White House collaboration in U.S. history.”
Under some circumstances, Dallek suggests, their blend of ideological flexibility and monumental egotism produced bold foreign policy advances, most notably the opening of relations with Communist China in 1971-72. And he praises Nixon and Kissinger even more exuberantly for initiating détente with the Soviet Union. Agreements negotiated with Moscow, he argues, helped end the cold war by lowering Soviet hostility to the outside world and opening the country to Western influences, which ate away at Communist rule from the inside. Kissinger’s efforts to make peace in the Middle East after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war similarly laid the groundwork for a later breakthrough, in this case the landmark 1978 accord between Egypt and Israel.
Associated Press 
On other occasions, Dallek writes, Nixon and Kissinger’s cynicism and unreasonable fear of defeat interacted to produce some of the administration’s ugliest moments. Above all, the two men needlessly prolonged and expanded the Vietnam War in a disastrous attempt to stave off a Communist victory at a moment when most Americans and most of the world wanted the fighting to end. In Chile, Nixon and Kissinger conspired to overthrow the Socialist government of Salvador Allende — and to bring the murderous regime of Augusto Pinochet to power — even though they could not identify any specific way in which Allende threatened the United States. Their fear that a leftist government in Chile might inspire radicals throughout Latin America was, Dallek charges, “nothing more than paranoia.”
What’s more, Dallek presents a devastating account of irresponsibility and dysfunction within the White House as the Watergate scandal unfolded. Desperate to save their careers, Nixon and Kissinger schemed to manipulate foreign policy to distract attention from the deepening domestic crisis. When these efforts failed, an increasingly unbalanced and alcohol-fogged Nixon abandoned foreign affairs almost entirely, leaving Kissinger in charge as a sort of unelected “co-president.” At the start of the 1973 Middle East war, Kissinger delayed informing Nixon for two and a half hours because of uncertainty about the politically embattled president’s ability to cope with urgent decisions.
Dallek’s attention to personalities makes “Nixon and Kissinger” remarkably engaging for a 700-page study of policy making. But this emphasis also underlies its chief weakness: the implication that the foreign policy devised by Nixon and Kissinger lacked intellectual coherence. Curiously, Dallek fails to describe at any length the rapidly shifting geostrategic landscape that confronted the Nixon administration as it entered office in 1969 — above all, the relative decline of American power due to the Vietnam War and the Soviet Union’s attainment of nuclear parity with the United States. Nor does he adequately explore Nixon’s or Kissinger’s innovative response to this new situation. Champions of realpolitik, the two men deliberately favored cool-headed calculation of national interests over ideological consistency. Without this essential background, their decisions seem haphazard rather than parts of a strategy to shore up United States influence by cultivating a new partner in China, easing the cost of the arms race with Moscow, bolstering pro-American leaders in the third world and avoiding defeat in Vietnam.
The narrow focus on character also obscures the full extent of the two men’s failures as policy makers. To be sure, their compulsive secretiveness and paranoia contributed to the downfall of the Nixon administration, precisely as Dallek suggests. But the two failed in a more profound sense as well. Their policies, rooted in the cold calculation of American interests, generated a powerful backlash from both liberals, angered by the brutalization of the third world, and conservatives, who objected to the coddling of Communists. The liberals helped elect Jimmy Carter in 1976, the conservatives Ronald Reagan in 1980 — presidents who, despite their many differences, shared a deep hostility to the lack of moral principle at the heart of Nixon-era foreign policy. The ideas of Nixon and Kissinger, not just their characters, have languished in disrepute ever since.

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